It has arrived: today is the day we set foot in Japan!
Kris and I stopped off at the IHOP attached to our hotel in Vancouver for some breakfast before catching a cab to the airport for our flight. The line for Air Canada International Departures was fairly long, but moved quicker than I expected. After wading our way through security, we wandered off to find our gate.
The way things are supposed to go is that during the call for those who require additional assistance for boarding the plane, we get to tag along because Kris needs to transfer into the aisle wheelchair and make his way to the seats. On the Edmonton to Vancouver flight, that’s exactly what happened and it was a nice smooth process. This time, however, not so much.
Even though we had already spoken to the boarding agents and they had everything prepped for us, when the initial call went out it was for those who needed additional assistance and first/executive class passengers. This meant that instead of having the plane to ourselves (which means no obstructions by other passengers), a bunch of people had already boarded the plane ahead of us. Compound that with the airport staffers who’s job it is to do “assisted loads” (it’s actually the people who work down on the tarmac; don’t ask me why) not getting to the gate until almost 10 minutes later, plus the fact our seats were in row 60 of 63, and it was going to be a fun endeavour.
Once everything was in place, we trudged our way through almost the entire length of the plane, other passengers strewn about in our way as we went, and made it to our seats.
The seat backs had both a USB port and a 110V power outlet so our iPod touches and laptops could be plugged in and fully-charged throughout the voyage. And when you’re about to embark on a 10 hour flight, it’s good to have your entertainment machines operational.
For the most part, though, I watched selections from the in-flight system. Hancock, Get Smart, and a few shows from the Discovery Channel. We also pulled out Kris’ MacBook Pro and watched Live Free or Die Hard on the “big screen”.
And the meals were pretty tasty. We got two meal services: the first, about an hour into the flight, I had sukiyaki beef with rice (other option was chicken); and the second, about 7 hours into the flight, was roast beef (other option was salmon). And they came with the cutest little single-serving soy sauce “dispensers”. They were baby fish filled with soy sauce, and you unscrewed a little cap on the front to squeeze it out.
One of the neat things about being on an intercontinental flight is there’s mood lighting on the plane. When it’s approximately time to sleep, most of the lights in the plane shut off and soft, blue-coloured light fills the cabin. In the interstitials, purple light bridges the gap towards more of a “daylight” soft yellow. I have pictures of much of the things I’m blogging about, but I don’t feel like spending the time uploading them to my flickr account because I don’t want to mess up the order of my photostream by cherry-picking some photos now and doing the rest once I get home. And just uploading everything I plan to when I get home is no good because I’m meticulous about descriptions and tagging, which takes up time I’d rather spend checking out Japan. Stay tuned shortly after the trip is completed and I’ll be uploading a whole whack of pictures and video.
Finally, at about 3:20pm local time, we landed at Narita International Airport. After a somewhat lengthy delay waiting for the aisle chair to be brought back to us (during which we had a nice chat with two of the flight attendants), we were finally off the plane. The gentleman that helped with the deplaning was amazingly friendly, offering to carry Kris’ backpack that normally rests on the back of his chair. So, with backpack on, he pushed Kris through the surprisingly long trek to head to Japan Customs & Immigration, and then the baggage claim.
Another nicety of flying with someone in a wheelchair: you get prime access to many of the services in airports. We were brought beyond the Customs lines for passengers (where there was a rather long line) and off to where the Crew enters the country (where there was no line!). After we handed in our embarkation forms and had our fingerprints and photos taken (standard practice for anyone entering Japan who is not a citizen) we were off to find the Keisei Skyliner which would take us right into the heart of Ueno and mere blocks from the hotel.
The aforementioned helpful gentleman took us to the ticket booth for the Skyliner and then to the correct check-in line where he was “replaced” by a very nice Skyliner lady who came with us down to the platform itself. When she saw that our tickets were for a car that didn’t have a wheelchair space on it, she ran all the way back to the ticketing booth and had them exchanged for ones that put us in the correct car. The people here really do go out of their way to be helpful!
It’s somewhat strange to ride a train at full-speed through a station without stopping, but it happens quite frequently on the many lines in Japan. The inter-car doors are powered and activated both by the train approaching one of the handful of stations it stopped at, but also by people placing their hand on the door. 50 minutes after we got on the train, we were on foot in Ueno on the way to the hotel in a light spitting of rain.
Right now, it is 9:45pm JST on Sunday, November 9 which is 5:45am MST, and I haven’t had any sleep yet after getting up at 8:00am MST on Saturday, November 8 in Vancouver. Nothing beats acclimatizing yourself to a dramatically different time zone! Which can only mean one thing: bed time!